Gagan Narang was on 29 August conferred with the prestigious Khel Protsohan award. The award is a recognition for his contribution in the encouragement of sports in country. The 2012 Olympic bronze medalist started his sports foundation — Gagan Narang Sports Promotion Foundation — in 2011 to provide a helping hand to kids who wanted to take up shooting. Eight years since its inception, the shooting academy which was first set up in Pune has expanded to 17 other locations across the country.
An effervescent Gagan, a day before the ceremony, spoke on how the idea behind the academy was about giving back to the sport he loves and getting such an award is a big motivation in his quest.
Gagan, who is already a recipient of Khel Ratna award, had started the foundation with a vision in 2011. His parents had to sell their land to buy a gun for him and lived in a rented house for almost 20 years. With him now looking at dusk of his shooting career, Gagan is making sure no other parent has to go through such a tough choice. That sport should not bring such discomforts in life.
"When we started the foundation, we saw many people not taking up the sport because either they had wrong notions or thoughts about it not being a safe sport, or it was not easily accessible to them. They had a thought that the sport is very expensive. We would speak to parents and ask why they are not allowing kids to take up shooting. I was helping other shooters with my equipment, and other needs. Then Pawan Kumar Singh, co-founder of the foundation, and I decided to do it in a more structured way. That is how the journey started," said Narang.
The viewpoint took shape of a foundation. Gagan had to put in his own money he had earned via the 2010 Commonwealth Games into the idea along with a seed funding of Rs 20 lakh by an investor to train 20 athletes. In the first year itself, these shooters clinched 60 international medals.
"That is how the journey went on. We noticed that if kids get the right kind of training and atmosphere, they can do well. We thought let's start focussing on the kids from day one. We started working on curriculum where anyone can start straight away," said the shooter.
The system that Gagan and Pawan have brought in place is not only to spot the young talent but also encourage the kids and the parents that they have it in them to pursue a long career in shooting. "Around 1200 kids are trained across GNSPF training centres every year and about 30 percent of this lot pursue it further," Gagan remarked.
A Dronacharya award at the grassroots level
There has been a void of good coaches at the grassroots level and Gagan feels that it is happening because everyone wants to become a national coach ultimately. These days the shooter has to include the name of his or her first coach in the application forms. That way the shooter's progress is being mapped and also recognition is being given to all the coaches in his or her career.
But Gagan said that more needs to be done. Like starting an award of stature like Dronacharya at all levels of coaching - grassroots, intermediate and national. He opined, "There should be a Dronacharya award at the grassroots level as well. Everyone wants to win the big award, so that will be their objective. There should be a system which recognises the coaches at all levels. There should be a grassroots level coach, an intermediate level coach, an excellence coach. Incentives should be given at all levels. University teachers cannot teach in Kindergarten or vice-versa."
Working hard for a miracle
As far as his shooting career is concerned, Gagan will return to shooting after a short sabbatical. He said that he has begun his training again. However, he did not open up much on the prospects of participation in 2020 Olympics. He is waiting for a miracle to happen.
"Yes, I have started my training but can't say about Tokyo. Tokyo is in my mind but that depends on how I do in the upcoming competitions. Next month we have the selection trials and if a miracle happens then I'll be selected for the Asian Championships. I am working hard for that to happen."
A miracle is awaited. However, Gagan is pretty sure of India doing far better in Tokyo in shooting than what they did in Rio in 2016. We are definitely going to do well in Tokyo than in Rio. With the system kept in place by the government and the federation, things have improved drastically," he said.
The system has led to the emergence of the likes of Elavenil Valarivan. They are young and highly competitive. Gagan spoke of how competitive they are and how good coaching has helped them reach here.
"I think a lot of ex-athletes have gone into coaching now. The knowledge that has come back into the system is what is driving the progress of these juniors. What we achieved in 12 years, these juniors are achieving in 3 to 4 years. These kids are ready to go to the Olympics at 16. I was only 20 plus when I went to my first. I started at 14. From that perspective, these kids are starting at the age of 10, 11."
The 36-year-old shooter, who is looking for his fifth Olympics berth next year, said that competition to excel has increased. And he himself is a part of it. He quipped about one incident which highlights the level of competition at his own academy before signing off.
"We have a system at the academy, whoever scores the highest, that score is pinned on a board. So there are days when Elavenil, Shreya shoot a 28 and their score is pinned. They will then show that to me and challenge me to shoot more than that. When I shoot 29, I go to them and tell this is what you have to beat now. But I feel happy when they shoot better than me."
Updated Date: Aug 29, 2019 18:11:01 IST